Delegates from across Ireland gathered at Galbally Community Centre on 22nd of March for the 1916 Societies’ Spring Conference, where our National Officer Board briefed those present on the upcoming launch of our One Ireland One Vote Petition. The campaign will be officially launched in the coming weeks.
Much of the proceedings focused on strengthening delegates’ knowledge and capacity with regard to the One Ireland One Vote campaign. There were briefings from the Societies’ Education Team, Chair, and Vice-Chair. However, the mainspring of the conference was the break-out workshops in which all delegates and guests participated. Many valuable ideas and insights were fed back to the conference floor and there was a general consensus that the day’s events had contributed to a surge in confidence and enthusiasm among members.
The keynote address from our National Education Department is attached below and offers a flavour of the wider discussions and ideas that took place and emerged on what was an important day in the development of our project.
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Education Team: Spring Conference Address
Thanks to all the delegates who came here today, and to the PH Pearse Society Galbally for hosting this conference.
- One Ireland One Vote: Strategic Overview
Today’s event is particularly important because it aims to consolidate a central plank of the 1916 Societies’ strategy: One Ireland One Vote (OIOV).
Remarks made today should be seen as a contribution to initiating a wider debate that we all need to take part in as we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rebellion. It’s a debate about basics: Who we are, what we do, and where we go. Today we’ll have a brief look at those questions through the lens of the One Ireland One Vote strategy.
Previously, Societies have spent a lot of time critiquing the Belfast Agreement – unpicking the ‘Triple Lock’ etc. – which has led to a tendency to see OIOV as a reaction to the Belfast Agreement rather than a new republican approach to contemporary politics. If OIOV is just a reaction then, arguably, it’s a sideshow. We need to view it as an opportunity to forge a political spearhead that’s broad enough to leave the Belfast Agreement as the sideshow.
One of the strengths of OIOV is its simplicity and so, keeping in that vein, perhaps the simplest way to start off is by asking ourselves the most simple questions of all: what is One Ireland One Vote? And, just as importantly, what is it not? Let us start with the second – what it’s not:
First of all, One Ireland One Vote is not enough! Critics are correct to say that it is only a slogan – unless, that is, we do something about it, push it as hard as we can and collect enough signatures to give it political muscle.
The One Ireland One Vote Petition is not a departure from principle or historical tradition, rather, it represents a fairly pragmatic revisiting of the Proclamation. It is a response to the current – deadlocked – situation in Ireland. Ideally, of course, the British Government should withdraw from Ireland and leave the Irish people to organise their own lives. However, since that’s unlikely, republicans need to make a move.
One Ireland One Vote is not the end of the Irish republican road. We have to include all sections of Irish society in the debate about what a new, democratic Ireland might look like.
That brings us to the question: What is OIOV? What’s its intention, its direction, its potential impacts?
One Ireland One Vote is an attempt to challenge the undemocratic partition of Ireland with a simple, direct and democratic appeal to the Irish people.
A petition for a referendum on Irish Unity is a practical way of modernising and reconstructing republican strategy, in a way that places new emphasis on democracy as the cornerstone value of republicanism (it’s worth reminding ourselves that the principal cause of the Spanish Civil War and the Irish War of Independence was the flouting of democracy as expressed through elections – the denial of democracy by imperialist and authoritarian regimes galvanising republicans in both Ireland and Spain).
One Ireland One Vote simplifies a set of complex political equations into a pill-sized, easily digestible, strategic idea and therefore increases the potential for ownership while avoiding legalistic language and other jargon.
The One Ireland One Vote Petition is targeted at all the Irish people, not just those who are registered to vote north or south. This gives it a head start over state elections – if we use it properly.
The One Ireland One Vote Petition is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for republicans to become the drivers of positive change in Ireland.
The Petition is an opportunity to acquire a demonstrable republican mandate without suffering the pitfalls of ‘electoralism’.
The campaign requires the simplest form of buy-in from ordinary Irish people – their signature.
The One Ireland One Vote Campaign meets many of the tests that would be required for ‘international’ boundary changes as outlined in the UN Charter. This is further reflected in the fact that the campaign is in step with other European separatist movements such as the Catalans.
The core of One Ireland One Vote is about being positive and thinking positively: for too long, Irish republicans have allowed their thinking to be restricted by the weight of failure and negativity. Regardless of what the issue might be, this has a corrosive effect on our ability to engage in ‘blue sky’ strategic thinking. Intellectually, we’re in a dark, locked box and we need to break out of it.
Finally, by way of summing up, there’s a ‘management speak’ acronym called ‘SMART’ that’s used to guide individuals or groups undertaking any major project. SMART is a check-list that helps you evaluate the impact before you start. SMART stands for: Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Targeted.
OIOV is ‘Strategic’ because it prioritises the central value of republicanism, highlights a key problem but also proposes a solution, and offers a process that maximises ownership among ordinary people.
It is ‘Measurable’, quite simply, because it relies on numerical volume (and every signature is important – equally important). We can easily measure progress area by area, town-by-town, province-by-province etc. The Education Team will develop an email-able chart of all the Societies with colour-coded blocks that show the accrual of signatures as they come in.
It is ‘Achievable’ because 1.) the people of Ireland want freedom and democracy in their country and 2.) the Societies provide a structure and strategy through which that can be expressed. Its achievability will also depend on the time and energy we put into it. But it is achievable.
OIOV is ‘Realistic’ because 1.) from an ideological point of view, it is reasonable, uncomplicated and based on universal values such as democracy and self-determination and 2.) the Societies provide the basic infrastructure necessary to facilitate it – although it will rely on more people than just Societies getting involved (we need a ‘multipler’ effect that sees ordinary people take the lead). It’s realistic because OIOV is a matter of sweat rather than blood. It makes no unrealistic demands. Pensioners and teenagers can drive it as much as athletes and intellectuals.
And, finally, it is ‘Targeted’ because its progress can be mapped out and its roll-out geared to redress identifiable imbalances. While it is an appeal to the Irish people as a whole, it depends upon well-targeted local knowledge and connections to give it impetus in townlands, cities, counties, regions, and provinces.
Conclusion: OIOV is a SMART approach.
- Historical Perspective
So, where does One Ireland One Vote sit vis-à-vis traditional republican thinking? Let’s take a moment to address some (welcome) criticisms that have been fed back from other republicans. Things like: OIOV undermines the Irish people’s vote in 1918 which established the First Dáil; or, OIOV compromises the sovereignty of the Irish people.
It is true that Irish republicans won the Irish Parliamentary Elections of 14th December 1918 and that that vote established the First Dáil, which of course the British Government refused to recognise. At its first meeting on 21st January 1919, the Dáil issued a Declaration of Independence and proclaimed itself the Parliament of the Irish Republic. On the same day, the first shots of the Irish War of Independence were fired at Soloheadbeg.
That the First Dáil was the democratically elected and legitimate government of Ireland is in little doubt among republicans (despite the election’s imperfections). There is some debate, however, about whether that legitimacy has been ‘handed down’ via certain channels and indeed, about whether a modern vote (such as OIOV) therefore undermines the historic, all-Ireland vote of 1918.
This argument has some merit in terms of logic-applied-to-history, the reality, though, is that the generation of 1918 is all but gone. Ireland has been partitioned and the opportunity to either re-establish the First Dáil or to bring about all-Ireland democracy remains elusive. Frankly, the British have successfully weathered that storm through their strategy of Partition and by allowing a time-lapse of multiple generations between 1918 and today.
By stubbornly insisting upon a retrospective restoration of the rights of the Irish people of 1918, republicans run the risk of committing a ‘historical fallacy’ – prioritising the circumstances and logic of history over the circumstances and logic of today. This, in turn, runs the risk of creating political thinking that is backward-looking and reactive rather than forward-looking and proactive. Circumstances and logic change; however, values, rights, and principles endure and it is to these that we must look.
Let’s be realistic about what can and cannot be achieved and about how to go about achieving our objectives. Republicans have just added forty-odd years of armed struggle to several centuries of rebellion. The price has been high and the result has been yet another leadership betrayal.
The question remains: what do we do about it today, do we have a strategy or an alternative? Well how about we ask the Irish people. The republican struggle conjures up the image of an ant or a group of ants trying to move a boulder from their path. They’re so preoccupied in the task that they fail to notice that just behind them, there are millions of other ants that would also like to see the boulder moved aside. If we can rally even modest support from a million or two million ants, the boulder might well start to budge a little.
So, what about the – sometimes vexed – question of sovereignty? Where exactly is the seat of Irish sovereignty located? For the answer to this question it is worth consulting the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, not as a sacred text but as a good guide, written by trusted patriots. Here’s what the Proclamation has to say (emphasis added):
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.
The Proclamation is quite clear that the sovereignty of Ireland is vested in the Irish people as a right. It also makes clear that it means the living people of Ireland (only living people have rights). To emphasis that it is the living people of Ireland who enjoy the right of sovereignty, it states that the right to sovereignty cannot be extinguished ‘except by the destruction of the Irish people’.
It also adds a second clause to what comprises the right to sovereignty (apart from the ownership of Ireland): ‘the unfettered control of Irish destinies’. Irish people are the fundamental unit of democracy and their will is sovereign – they control their own destinies, their future. The only real challenge this presents to republicans is how to bring about the authentic expression of the will of the Irish people – which brings us back to the crux of the One Ireland One Vote Campaign.
- Practical Issues
Everyone in this room has a vital role to play in the campaign to collect a huge number of signatures for this petition. Every individual is capable of organising an extensive web of friends, relations, and other contacts that can reliably collect signatures using the formats the Societies are preparing (and other formats you might come up with, we need a dynamic process).
Collectors of signatures do not have to be members of the Societies, indeed, the more ordinary people involved in collecting signatures the better. However, it will be through the structures of the Societies that the signatures will be drawn in and deposited in a central depot where they will be photographed, digitised, and preserved. Today is an opportunity to have your say and to help develop ideas for the roll out of this campaign.
With regard to collection of signatures on doorsteps, there has been some discussion about ‘canvassing points’ ie how to sell the idea and how to defend it from criticism. The Belfast Agreement’s Triple-Lock has been mentioned. It would be best if that debate is kept separate from the Petition and that we sell the idea just as it is: One Ireland One Vote – sign here if you agree.
An obvious danger with this petition is that Society members and others do not drive it enthusiastically. If you have any doubts about it please use the opportunity in the workshops to raise them. If you have ideas please put them forward. Every vote is extremely valuable, every signature a nugget of gold. We must work to gather every one of them together and form a glittering Aladdin’s Cave.